Palms and Passion

Mark 11:1-11

April 13, 2003


If you look at a liturgical calendar for today, you will see something interesting for the name of this Sunday.  For most other Sunday’s in the liturgical year, the name for each Sunday is pretty straightforward;  progressing numerically through the church year depending on what season we are in, for example, 1st Sunday of Advent, or 4th Sunday in Lent, or 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. 

Some Sundays have very specific names which mark transitions in seasons, for example Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday, or Christ the King Sunday.  But this Sunday is different from other Sundays.  This Sunday is Palm AND Passion Sunday. For the Church, this Sunday marks both a time of joyful celebration, as well as a time of somber contemplation and preparation. 

Today is certainly Palm Sunday for us Christians.  The story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the colt has most certainly influenced, encouraged, and inspired us in our faith.  At long last, Jesus makes his triumphant entry.  At long last, our Lord makes his very public claim that he is the King of kings.  And like the people of Jerusalem, we too want to join in the celebration.  We too want to be a part of the crowd lining the streets as we wait for Jesus to pass.  We too want to throw our palm branches on the ground and shout, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” 

But amidst the commotion and celebration, amidst the waving and the shouting, there is another message being told by the Gospel writer, a message that is much more important and solemn for us, but no less joyful, a message of the passion of Christ.

The winding road of Jesus' public ministry finally comes to an end at the gates of Jerusalem.  And Jesus knows what fate awaits him on the other side of those gates.  In such circumstances, one might have expected him to enter Jerusalem secretly, avoiding and hiding from the authorities who were out to destroy him.  But Jesus doesn't run and hide, instead he enters in such a way that the attention of every eye is focused on him.  But Jesus is no fool, he does not act haphazardly or carelessly, he is intentional about what he does.  His pre-arranged plan has a purpose.

          You see, Jesus knows the history of Israel.  He knows how kings ride into cities on their great, white horses making a grand entrance under pomp and circumstance.  He knows the fan-fair that accompanies such a grand entrance, with the shouts of praise coming from the emotionally charged crowd, who line the streets for a glimpse of their king and hero. 

But most importantly, he knows the Jewish people.  He knows the roots of their nationalistic dreams and religious beliefs.  He knows the fathers of their country: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David.  And he also knows the Scriptures and how they proclaim the coming of the Messiah who will bring victory to Israel, and of the people who wait with eager anticipation for the Messiah’s coming.

One can almost see a sly smile and smirk come across his lips as he climbed on the back of the colt saying to himself, "If it’s a king they want, then a king they will get."  But it doesn't take long for the sly smile and smirk on Jesus' face to disappear, only to be replaced by a look of disappointment, as the people shout out "Hosanna! Hosanna!," and lay down their coats and palm branches in front of him. 

For all of his miracles and healings, for all of his proclamations that he is the way, the truth, and the life, for all of his works that prove he is the Son of God, and the Messiah, the people still do not get it.  His message has again fallen on deaf hears, and his identity has again been missed by blind eyes.  Jesus did not come to fulfill their nationalistic and religious ideologies and desires, he came to die on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins and the salvation of their souls. 

Oh yes, a king entered Jerusalem that day; a king that contradicted all that the people had hoped for and expected.  Very soon the people in the crowd will eventually not want anything do to with the kind of king Jesus is because he will not give them what they want.  We cannot overlook the shear irony of the story, that the same people who shout, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” as Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday will be the same people who on Good Friday will shout, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” 

My friends, our scripture reading for today isn’t about a king who comes in power and prestige, but about a Savior who comes in meekness, in lowliness, and in humility, about Savior who comes, not to give us what we want, but to give us what we need. 

This story is about the passion of Christ, about the suffering Christ who by weeks end will go from triumph to tragedy, about the suffering Christ who is intentional about what he is doing, about the suffering Christ who will very soon willingly and faithfully proclaim, “not my will but your will be done,” about the suffering Christ who will go from riding a colt to being nailed to the cross for the whole world. 

On this day of celebration of Palm Sunday, let us always remember the good news of Passion Sunday, for Jesus did not come as Mighty God to meet us in our strength, but as the Crucified God to meet us in our weakness, to meet us in the depths of our human suffering, to be with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, so that we might walk with him forever in the light of eternal life. 

As the forty days of Lent draw to a close for us as we move into Holy Week, let us not overlook the events of this week and their importance for our lives of faith.  We must never forget that Jesus is our Lord and King, not because of his grand entrance that day in Jerusalem, but because God raised Jesus from the dead, for there is no path to the resurrection for eternal life except by the way of the cross for the forgiveness of sins.  Amen.